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Life on the road for Formula One teams

The toughest part of the sport is the frantic race to deliver men and machines to 19 destinations around the globe.

Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina is the culmination of a long and epic journey for the Formula One teams - most of which has been off the tracks and on the roads as men, machines and equipment have been hauled from one circuit to the next.

The 2010 season has been one of the most demanding, with the joint longest itinerary for a season of 19 races.

The year began in March in Bahrain and returns to the Gulf region this weekend, but inbetween has seen 17 races held in 16 countries on five continents. Including testing at the beginning of the year, the teams will have travelled about 160,000 kilometres.

But it has been the climax to the road to Abu Dhabi that has been the most demanding.

 

When The National visited the factory of Force India, one of the teams in the championship, at Silverstone in Britain in September, the team's mechanics and aerodynamic departments were hard at work preparing for the start of a string of five long-haul races that would take in trips to Singapore, Japan, Korea, Brazil and, finally, Abu Dhabi within seven weeks.

This is the busiest and most compact end to the season in the sport's history, with the Korean Grand Prix, which made its debut this year, increasing the number of "fly-away" races at the end of the season from four to five.

Due to the rainy seasons it is not viable to race in Asia other than in the spring and in the autumn months of Formula One, which means that the races have to be squeezed into a short period, around the summer months, which are the most viable for holding European races in good weather.

But Andy Stevenson, Force India's team manager, says that the busy schedule is not new to the teams.

"Having five fly-away races is demanding, but is nothing out of the ordinary too much for us, and it is something that we can handle," he says.

"Getting from Brazil to Abu Dhabi will be tough, with only a week between races, but it is again something that we have planned for in advance and will deal with.

"The schedule is set-up for competing in Europe and across the world and planning a schedule begins almost as soon as the provisional calendar is published by the FIA.

"That can sometimes be a little tough with the FIA being able to change the calendar up until January 1, but we plan as much as we can in advance."

The teams have had to make the 12,117km journey from Sao Paulo to Abu Dhabi with very little time for recovery.

David Fogden, a chief truckie with the team, who is responsible for moving the equipment around at a race track and getting the machinery set up, explains how the team will handle the trip.

"That is going to be one of the hardest of the season for us, no doubt," he says.

"The race in Brazil will finish around 4.30pm and then it will be a race against time to take everything down and pack everything away so that we can leave by around midnight, or 11pm, if we are lucky.

"I think we have a 4.30am flight booked so we will have to check in by 2am so there will not be much room for manoeuvre.

"The flight should get us into Abu Dhabi in the morning and we call in at the hotel we are staying at for a little while. We will go back to the track where the air freight should be at the track by 3 or 4pm. We will then get in and set up the garage and we will stay there as long as it takes until the work is done.

"It is a fast turnaround but we need to have it done so the engineers can begin their work and setting up the car can begin."

The cars will be built and worked upon on Wednesday so set-up can be fully completed in time for the first laps in Abu Dhabi during practice on Friday. The chassis, the main structure of the cars that will be on the track this weekend, have been on the road since mid-September and will not return to their factories in Europe until after tyre testing has been completed at Yas Marina Circuit next week.

Stevenson adds: "The mechanics will come back [to the factory] between races and smaller parts, such as suspension pieces and other pieces, will be brought back to be tested, but the chassis for the two cars will be packed away and will be sent directly to the next circuit."

The reason for the chassis not coming back between races is that the team would have little time to work on the monoque before it would have to go back on the road again, and thus there would be little gain from the financial cost of the long journey from and to Asia.

Instead the team are able to monitor the chassis and work on it on the road, as Fogden explains.

"We have an NDT [Non-Destructive Testing] machine which we will use to check all the rims, wishbones, uprights and tubs and they will all be checked for structural integrity.

"We are able to see if there are any chips, cracks or visible weaknesses that could lead to a component failure, and that will tell us if anything needs replacement and what we need to bring back from the factory for the next race."

For the long-haul races the team's 35 tonnes of equipment travels to circuits by air freight, on planes commissioned by Formula One Management (FOM), with Force India's 65 staff travelling separately.

"It is hard to put an exact figure on it, but it is expensive," says Stevenson. "We get a payment from FOM [Formula One Management] which goes towards our transport budget. You try to only take the essential stuff but we will not compromise on performance. If it comes down to a toss-up between cutting down on weight for transport costs, or performance, it will always be performance that comes first. Our view is performance first, luxury second."

For the European races, Force India will use three transporter trucks to transport equipment, which also double as motorhomes and hospitality units, something they do not have here at Yas Marina.

"For Abu Dhabi we will not have our three transporters with us and we will not have our own hospitality unit," he says. "That is usually the case for long-haul races and we have to rely on each track's facilities, which is not going to be a problem in Abu Dhabi as the pit and hospitality facilities are second to none."

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